Imagine if you were one of those people struggling with a mortgage after the housing market collapse, but making your payments. Maybe you cut back heavily on expenses. Maybe you took out an informal loan from a friend or relative. But you managed.
Meanwhile your neighbor down the street let his house go into foreclosure and just waited for the government to ride to his rescue. You weren’t happy about that.
Something similar to that is about to happen in South Queens and other areas where people were hard hit by Hurricane Sandy. The city just announced that it will provide $720 million to rebuild housing and $325 million to rebuild businesses damaged by the storm. The funds come from aid allocated by the U.S. government, and are designed to cover whatever insurance and grants from the Federal Emergency Management Agency do not.
But there’s a catch — one nobody was warned about. The money will only go to those home and business owners who have yet to rebuild. So if you already spent, say, $50,000 to repair your house, and FEMA covered maybe $30,000 — and you had already been dropped by your insurance company, as many people in the Sandy zone were before the storm hit —you’re out of luck. But if the guy next door has somehow been living with the damage and the mold for the last five months, he’ll get the money.
That’s not fair. And it’s just like what the city did with its Rapid Repairs program. If you went out and bought a new boiler, for example, to replace the one in your flooded basement, and Rapid Repairs knocked on your door the next day, you were out of luck. But if they came by the day before you were going to buy it, boom — free furnace.
We understand that one concern the federal government, which set the rules, has is the potential for fraud. Yes, there are people out there who might have gotten their roof done a couple years ago and will claim that they just did it after the storm. But that’s what requiring receipts is for — and not everyone is so crooked that they’ll just create fake ones on their home printers to get the cash.
The good news is that we may be able to change the rules. A public comment period on the proposal, “Action Plan A,” is open until April 4. We urge all our readers to go to nyc.gov/html/cdbg/html/home/home.shtml and suggest also giving grants for work that’s been done. That’s only fair to all our neighbors who’ve suffered enough already.